December 16, 2017

The harm in stereotyping veterans

The world of Twitter floods my news feed with thousands of opinions. While I tend to swing far-left on the political spectrum, some opinions I hear from my fellow Democrats about those who serve in the military do not sit well with me.

A negative opinion on war, military spending or U.S. foreign policy should not equal a negative opinion of veterans.

No one understands what war is truly like unless you have served in the military. Movies like “American Sniper” or “Zero Dark Thirty” can only show so much. Very few films accurately portray the everyday struggles of adjusting to civilian life after serving, especially for veterans in combat roles.

I have heard veteran stories about what it’s like to carry out a command that ends up killing innocent civilians, when the target was the enemy. I’ve heard about how it feels to return home after fiveplus years of service to find out their friends have moved on and life has shifted dramatically since they left. I’ve heard about the trauma of shaking their best friend’s hand, not knowing it is for the last time.

With that in mind, not every veteran who has ever served has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Not every veteran saw combat. Many had very technical positions, such as building rockets or working on improving satellite devices. Not every veteran who returns to civilian life will be triggered by loud noises or large crowds. Not every veteran with PTSD is going to commit a violent act. These are dangerous stereotypes that perpetuate the idea that war changes you for the worse no matter what you did in the military. 

During the initial invasion of Iraq, the rules of engagement told soldiers not to engage the enemy unless someone shoots at them first. The false perception that as soon as Marines land in enemy territory they are out looking for enemies to kill is not accurate.

Many of the veterans I have spoken to wish war did not exist at all. However, they have strong beliefs about war and why our country needs to be equipped to defend itself. 

I understand this country arguably spends an obscene amount of money on the military. However, this does not change the fact that the military is made up of people. Each and every member of the military is a unique individual with their own past, passions and purpose for serving this country.

Through this project I have talked to many veterans, all with different service histories and reasons for serving. There are roughly 4,000 veterans currently enrolled at Webster. They are pursuing degrees in everything from pre-med biology to jazz performance. 

Some reasons veterans at Webster have given me for why they chose to serve include: a need to simply get out of their hometown, to avoid going down a bad path in life due to crime or drugs in their community, to re-orient themselves, to burn off steam before committing to a college education, patriotism and a strong sense of respect and pride for those who served before them.

Veterans need your support and respect. PTSD, depression, anxiety, isolation, grief and suicide are all issues discussed in this project that veterans and those currently serving face. So I ask you to please, suspend judgement of veterans before getting to know them as individual people.

“Every group in America right now is deserving of empathy in terms of what they’re fighting for and what they want out of life. I wouldn’t ask for anything more for the veteran community.” Jason Blakemore, VA counselor at Webster University and Iraq Marine veteran said.

Whether you agree with the war they fought in or not, they still fought to protect you and your freedoms. Protest the war or your government if you feel compelled to do so. Not the veterans who risked their life to protect yours.

Share this post

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail